The University of Minnesota is currently undergoing a redesign of its teacher education program. Part of this process saw the formation of several committees, each charged with addressing a particular piece of teacher education that graduates of the program saw as lacking in their own teacher education training. Among those groups formed was one on Race, Culture, Class, and Gender.
The group came up with a draft of a plan for including more critical self-reflection on the part of pre-service teachers. To address what has been called the “Demographic Imperative” (basically 86% of teachers are white, and almost half of our students are students color) the committee called for pre-service teachers to locate themselves as raced, gendered, classed, and sexed. Further, these pre-service teachers must be able to identify their own biases and perspectives and learn about themselves in a way that it may better inform them in their future classrooms. If we are aiming to create teachers who are capable of thinking critically, we must first give them the tools and practice to become self-critical.
Alas, the right wing Columnist Katherine Kersten rejected the group’s recommendations saying,
The report advocates making race, class and gender politics the “overarching framework” for all teaching courses at the U. It calls for evaluating future teachers in both coursework and practice teaching based on their willingness to fall into ideological lockstep.
Kersten goes on…
The first step toward “competence,” says the task group, is for future teachers to recognize — and confess — their own bigotry. Anyone familiar with the reeducation camps of China’s Cultural Revolution will recognize the modus operandi.
While many commenters on the Star Tribune’s site defended the University of Minnesota and the group members’ recommendations, right-wing radio host Chris Baker belittled the group and furthered the hysteria. You can hear the show here.
The Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, Jean K. Quam, wrote back to Kersten in the Star Tribune, though her response fell short of what many of us wished for.
Dean. Quam wrote,
We value diversity and encourage exploration of all viewpoints and ideologies. This was recognized by both the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in its 2006 evaluation of the college and by the Minnesota Board of Teaching.
A true statement to be sure, but the above represents yet another example of the way the Right has framed the discourse around educational equity. The Dean, in an effort to defend her College but not offend, ended up crafting an argument that was forced to use data, research, and other academic reports to defend claims instead of using the same morally charged language as Kersten.
Despite the controversy, the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative is moving forward, and hopefully will act on the recommendations Kersten, Baker, and their like are so afraid of: pre-service teachers should think about the ways in which different people are privileged and marginalized in our schools.